Saturday, December 17, 2011
Several other OUTFIT authors were also listed, including Laura Caldwell, Dave Heinzmann, Jamie Freveletti, and of course, rising TV star, Marcus Sakey. And Luis Alberto Urrea, Keir Graff, Michael Harvey, and Melanie Benjamin, also some fine authors and friends, were on the list as well.
Here's the link so you can read it yourself.
Chicago, the Second City? Bah, humbug!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Justice has been a long time coming for members of Chicago's Cornbleet family. It's been five years since Hans Peterson drove here from New York and brutally tortured and murdered their dermatologist father in his Michigan Avenue office.
Yesterday, Dr. Cornbleet's son, Jon, spoke to reporters about the verdict
Incredibly, even though this was a huge story in Chicago in 2006 and 2007, and received national attention on shows like Dateline NBC and Inside Edition, not a single English language print media outlet has reported this week's trial and verdict (I'm not aware of TV coverage either, but it's possible I could have missed it). An exception was Whet Moser's thoughtful and personal piece on the trial for Chicago magazine's web site.
The Chicago Tribune does have a story today about an Australian who was sentenced to two months detention in Indonesia for marijuana possession, but nothing about the conviction on the same day of an American who stabbed a Chicago doctor more than two dozen times just a few blocks from Tribune Tower.
(For more background on this story look at this and here, or you can really go in-depth with this excellent Chicago Mag article from 2007.)
UPDATE: Here's a television report (in French) that includes scenes of the courtroom and a comment from Peterson's mother:
UPDATE 2 Jon Cornbleet will be addressing the Chicago media Tuesday (11/29) morning. I assume we'll finally see local coverage of this story Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Friday, November 25, 2011
A sentence was promised by the weekend and the French courts delivered.
Hans Peterson has been sentenced to life in prison
(For more background on this story look at this and here, or you can really go in-depth with this excellent Chicago Mag article from 2007.)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
(For more background on this story look at this and here, or you can really go in-depth with this excellent Chicago Mag article from 2007.)
Another update from the Guadalupe trial of Hans Peterson, killer of Chicago dermatologist Dr David Cornbleet.
This report contains a pretty thorough summary of yesterday's testimony, including that of Peterson's French mother and the Chicago coroner who examined Dr. Cornbleet's body.
Peterson's mother, who was born in France (a fact that enabled her son to apply for French citizenship and avoid extradition) describes dramatic changes she perceived in her son after just a small dose of Accutane. The medical examiner said that the extent of the injuries suffered by Dr. Cornbleet resembled those of a "hate crime."
One interesting detail--it appears the family of Dr. Cornbleet is also represented by an attorney, who has the right to cross-examine witnesses. He pointed to Peterson's history of problems managing his anger and observed that Peterson's mother is not a medical expert who could identify a link between Accutane and Hans's ailments.
(Also, read this thoughtful, personal piece from Chicago magazine's Whet Moser on the start of the Peterson trial.)
DAY FIVE UPDATE: Shortly after the arrest of Hans Peterson, some speculated that the most he could serve under French law was 20 years. Today, the prosecution asked for a sentence of life plus 22 years.
Monday, November 21, 2011
On October 24, 2006, Hans Peterson drove a rented car from New York to Chicago and walked into the Michigan Avenue office of dermatologist David Cornbleet. His intention was to torture the 64-year-old physician with a knife and blowtorch.
Torturing and murdering someone, even someone more than twice your age, turns out to be more difficult than it seems. Dr. Cornbleet fought back. Peterson eventually overpowered him, however, stabbing him more than twenty times until he was dead.
We followed the Cornbleet case extensively here at The Outfit, even publishing the first photo of Peterson after his arrest, and uncovering Peterson's ominous postings on an Accutane web site. But there hasn't been much news on that front in quite a while. Peterson fled to the island of St. Martin where he was eventually arrested by French authorities. He has been sitting in a jail in Guadalupe for four years.
Today he finally goes on trial for "murder and acts of torture and barbarism." (Even though this was once a high-profile case with primetime network coverage and an appeal for extradition from then Senator Barack Obama, I can find no coverage of this at all in the English-language media. Many thanks to the pen pal who alerted me to the news.)
It appears the case will be a war of experts, with the defense attempting to mitigate Peterson's guilt by claiming that the Accutane prescription Dr. Cornbleet had written for Peterson's acne several years before the murder caused significant and irreversible damage to Peterson's brain.
French justice is slow to arrive, but swiftly delivered, apparently. A verdict is expected by the weekend.
We'll post it when we hear it.
UPDATE: Here is a very brief summary of the first day of testimony.
UPDATE 2: Summary of Tuesday's testimony.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Sunday, November 06, 2011
My last post talked about an author that wrote one amazing book and never wrote another and I got to thinking--who is a one hit wonder and why? We hear them all the time when dealing with songs, so what makes an author write one (or two) and then walk away?
For those who missed the last post, the one hit there was Zemindar, an epic story about the Sepoy Mutiny in India 1857. Valerie Fitzgerald wrote an amazing story and never wrote another. I compared this book to Gone With The Wind, and...guess what--Margaret Mitchell only published GWTW during her lifetime. Another manuscript was found after her death. Seems as though for these two authors one epic historical novel was enough. Perhaps the research required was just too taxing, or they thought they would be unable to top the earlier work.
I did a quick google search and found that some of our most famous novels are one hit wonders. From the well known To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man the list is distinguished.
I've also found great books by writers writing under a pseudonym who then give it up. I remember reading Stephen King's Thinner written as Richard Bachman and wondering "this writer is great, why doesn't anyone know about him?" Ha! Joke was on me.
Without a doubt, creating a novel is a labor of love and work and I can understand someone having done it, done it well, and then deciding to move on to another medium. Apparently this is what Oscar Wilde did after The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Which makes me think--are there any great books that you've read that never received the acclaim you think they deserved? These novels were "one" but not a "hit?" I'd love to learn about them and add them to my "to be read" pile!
Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Did you ever wonder how two people, especially two that are married to each other, can possibly write crime fiction together-- without murdering each other? We did. Luckily, we found someone who could tell us. Please welcome Aimee Thurlo, one half of the Aimee and David Thurlo writing team.
It takes two - at least in the Thurlo household - to create a novel. Our collaboration works because the two of us make one terrific writer.
Our partnership began after a long conversation where we each acknowledged our individual strengths and weaknesses as writers. We wanted to produce the best novels possible, so teaming up professionally seemed the logical way to go.
The subsequent years became a continual learning process. Writing a book is an incredibly uneven, unpredictable process that often takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotional highs and lows. Adapting to your partner’s eccentricities is a must. Taking into account that each of us has our own set of skills, voice, and method of working, we knew right away that we’d have to establish certain ground rules.
Sometimes, as it was in our case, it’s obvious who does what best. For example, my action scenes are horrendous. One time I got IUDs mixed up with IED’s. If David hadn’t caught it in time, our readers would have been rolling on the floor with laughter and our credibility lost forever. I also have no sense of direction, as evidenced by my driving skills. Without looking at my hands and/or wristwatch, I still have no idea which direction is left or right. Don’t even ask me to choose east or west. As a result, we decided right off the bat that David would choreograph all the action scenes and handle those details.
However, there’s also a yin to that yang . David’s weaknesses as a writer are precisely where I excel. My strengths lie in dialog, characterization, and in bringing out the emotions, essential to any compelling storyline.
Our latest Ella Clah mystery, Black Thunder, (Oct. 2011) is a perfect example of how our styles blend. In this suspenseful mystery Ella and her ad hoc investigative team have to track down a possible serial killer before he or she can strike again. At the same time, Ella struggles with pressures from home. Her little girl is now a teen with a mind of her own and those pesky, raging hormones that complicate every mom’s life.
The reviews for Black Thunder, our seventeenth southwest mystery, have been excellent. PW said it was an "insightful portrait of a native culture still evolving between tradition and modernity." Booklist, the Journal of the American Library Association, also gave it a favorable review, calling Special Investigator Ella Clah a "compelling character", and promised that our story "should keep readers on their toes until the final pages."
We also have a brand new romantic suspense novel coming out Nov. 1, Winter Hawk’s Legend. In this story Holly Gates must hide out with Daniel Hawk, the security expert sworn to protect her. She finds herself falling in love with him though, unlike her, he craves no home or family - just the same freedom as the great hawk. This is a story about the power of family, of hope, and the courage to defy the odds.
Winter Hawk’s Legend is a landmark book - our 30th for Harlequin Intrigue. To date our publisher has sold more than a million copies of our Harlequins.
Romantic Times gave Winter Hawk’s Legend 4½ stars, which means “in a class by itself.” My favorite review, however, came out in Genre Go Around. The reviewer said, “Winter Hawk’s Legend is a superb Native American mystery starring a woman in peril who has no concept as to who wants her dead or her unknown adversary’s motive. Thus readers have an innocent doing an innocent thing leading to her danger mindful of Alfred Hitchcock. Readers will relish team Thurlo’s enchanting New Mexico thriller.”
To be compared to Hitchcock, at any level, made our year.
I believe what makes David and I such a strong writing team is that we’re two very different people. We’re opposites in almost every way imaginable. For example, I take things way too personally. A mediocre review can put me either in the dumps or have me diving headlong into chocolate. David is calmer by nature, and his objectivity often helps me maintain an even keel.
Even our approach to writing is different. I can spend countless hours working over a paragraph and have the ability to shut out all distractions when I’m on deadline. Unless the kitchen blows up and I find myself without coffee, I stay on target. David, on the other hand, has a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. He usually plots our books while on the move. Afterwards, I go over the details of the storyline and fine tune it. Once again, though our styles are different - or maybe because of it - we balance each other.
Though our team has been very successful, our collaboration isn’t always smooth. The very fact that there are two of us working on the same words, pages, and story almost guarantees that there’ll be disagreements somewhere along the way. Since our first priority is the novel we’re working hard to create, we’ve agreed to settle those issues in a manner we believe is most beneficial to the work. If it’s an emotional or characterization problem, I have the last say, but David’s opinion takes precedent on any aspect of the plot or the actions scenes.
The rewards of working as a team are clear. When it’s time to celebrate victories, you’ll always have someone who understands the sacrifices it took to get that starred review, or that brand new multiple book contract. Yet, as a married couple who also works together, achieving balance remains our greatest challenge. Pressure can wreak havoc on a partnership, be it business or personal, so it’s crucial for us to find time to do fun things together, too. On Saturdays or Sundays we might choose to watch a football game together while eating gobs of popcorn. At other times, we’ll take our trio of standard poodles for a walk in the bosque, the wooded banks of the Rio Grande, or go for a long car ride down country back roads.
Teamwork takes work, but in the end run, I’ve got to say I’d never trade it for a solo act. As Ella Clah, our Navajo tribal police investigator might say, “When you’ve got good backup nearby anything is possible.”
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Monday, October 03, 2011
Well, I went and did it. I started my own personal blog. Still not sure why, except that it was time. I'll be staying at the Outfit as well, but now I'll have a chance to post stuff that is more -- well -- whatever I damn well want.
Yeah, it is freeing.
So... my first post on the new blog is the back story on TOXICITY. I hope you'll check it out and leave a comment. Or not.
See you here and there.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I have a writer friend who lives in Cyprus (Yes, and I'm still waiting for an invitation). Anyway, she's just published her second novel, a traditional mystery called CHILDREN OF THE PLANTATION, and I thought it was an intriguing story. I hope you agree.
Here's Faith Mortimer describing her novel.
Diana is head over heels in love with life. Not only has she just solved the mysterious murders back home in Cyprus in, ‘The Assassins’ Village’ but she’s also expecting her first child.
Steve decides they both need a holiday after solving the murders and suggests a return visit to Malaysia, where Diana spent some of her childhood. She remembers the lush, velvety tropical nights and agrees it is a delightful idea.
They arrive at their luxurious plantation hotel but things turn out not quite as they would have liked. The hotel was the family home of the Chalcots, a family whose life was steeped and shrouded in mystery. Diana is asked to take a look through some old diaries and discovers dark secrets about this enigmatic family.
Such as: Who was Alex and what did he discover…and what did he really do all those years ago when he was growing up? Who was Paul, Hermione and the beautiful but selfish Eleanor? Who was responsible for the events that plunged the family into despair? And what is the real story behind all the façade?
Find out in CHILDREN OF THE PLANTATION.
And here's the prologue to the story.
Opening the kitchen door, she spotted a vixen standing near the refuse bin. Hermione clapped her hands, and it shot through the hedge at the bottom of the garden.
Hermione's heart thudded in her breast as she considered what next to do. Casting a look around, she gave thanks that the clouds scudding overhead made it a dark night. This had to be done in complete privacy.
Giving herself a mental shake, she crossed the damp grass to the shed and picked up a spade. A clod of earth still clung to the sharp blade from where she had been digging in her vegetable patch earlier. It seemed a long time ago now but was just that afternoon. She paused, still not completely certain she was doing the right thing. Making up her mind, she walked over to the newly turned earth.
The air smelled fresh after the rain , and a light breeze blew the mixed garden scents her way while she dug. The hole was to be small but deep, especially as she had just driven the fox off. Satisfied, she stood back and peered down into the soft loamy material, a sorry place for such a pathetic bundle.
Sick at heart, but knowing they had no choice, Hermione laid down her spade and walked back into the kitchen. She picked up the tightly wrapped package and carried it outside; it weighed no more than a couple of pounds as she gently laid it down into the hole.
Covering it with fresh earth, she scattered pebbles around and knelt on the grass. Had there been any other choice? Whatever were they going to tell him when the time came?
You can find the ebook here, or wait for the trade paperback next month. Enjoy!
About the Author. Faith Mortimer was born in England. Her father was in the Royal Air Force and from the tender age of five, Faith learned the meaning of travel and living in different parts of our beautiful world. Faith now spends her time between England and Cyprus where she lives with her husband. She’s filled her life with different careers, Registered nurse, entrepreneur and writer. She loves the outdoors, acting and writing. She has written two other bestselling novels and a short story collection. Visit Faith Mortimer’s website http://www.faithmortimerauthor.com/for more information.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
We bowled as a team... with Outfiteer Emeritus Sara Paretsky and Honorary Outfit Member Enid Perle to cheer us on. Unfortunately, what we amassed in enthusiasm didn't quite transfer to our scores, and our form... ahem, Laura....probably wouldn't make it past the Professional Bowling Association (or whatever they call themselves.)
Still, we will remember this event fondly. And now, thanks to Michael Dymmoch and her spot-on photography, so will you!
On a personal note, I want to say that I have been nominated for awards at Bouchercon three times, but I have never won until this year. And what trophy did I bring home? The Worst Bowler at Bouchercon. I am very proud, and the trophy sits in the place of honor in my office.
St. Louis was terrific. And that's a wrap.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Friday, September 02, 2011
by Libby Hellmann
Hi, everyone. It's a new month, and I have a new book out! It's a police procedural/thriller and it turned out to be the prequel to my Georgia Davis PI series.
Here's the description:
Ten years before EASY INNOCENCE, PI Georgia Davis was a police officer on the force in a Chicago suburb. And while homicides are rare on the North Shore, three bodies turn up in quick succession—all of them dumped in waste disposal dumpsters or landfills. The investigations into the murders test the mettle and professionalism of a combined police task force. Along the way, they also test the strength of Georgia’s relationship with one of the detectives working the case. While Georgia, her detective boyfriend Matt, and his sometime partner John Stone pit their skills against those of an ingenious killer, the daughter of a real estate mogul-- who just happens to have her eye on Matt -- complicates matters. A dark police procedural and thriller, TOXICITY is a prequel to the Georgia Davis PI series (EASY INNOCENCE and DOUBLEBACK).
It's only just gone up, but there is one review, a quote from which I have to share:
"Hellmann writes with the economy and emotional punch of classic crime novelists like Lawrence Block."
(Be still, my heart....)
Hope you'll give it a look. You can find it on Amazon, on Nook, on Smashwords, and soon, hopefully all the others.
Have a great holiday, everyone.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
In spite of their titles The Man Who Understood Cats (Man Who...), The Death of Blue Mountain Cat (Death...), and Incendiary Designs (St. Martin’s wouldn’t publish it under its real title—Cats Burning. NO FOUR-LEGGED CATS WERE HARMED IN THE PRODUCTION OF THE STORY!), my books aren’t about cats!
Except as metaphor: the cat as a metaphor for the detective, the solitary hunter, the creature driven by curiosity and oblivious to social approbation. The human protagonists in my books exhibit stealth, patience, occasionally guile—cat qualities. They’re compulsive observers. They can’t ignore a movement, however subtle, on the part of their natural prey.
While the human characters in my books may be catlike, the cats (there are cats) are realistic. Freud and Skinner (a black domestic short hair and an orange tabby respectively) are no more talented than any feline you’ll find at your local S.P.C.A. They fight. They cough up hairballs. They bring mice home for their people. They don’t contribute materially to the solution of crimes. (Although they did inadvertently save Dr. Caleb’s life once.) Psyche, a tiny calico who made her appearance in Death..., is adorable, but no more so than any kitten.
My books also feature dogs. Toby, John Thinnes’s yellow Labrador, is a bright, friendly creature, but no Rin Tin Tin. To date, Toby’s only contribution to the solution of a crime was to call attention to himself by relieving himself at a crime scene (Death......). In a future book, Toby may assist on a stake-out by allowing Thinnes to pose as a dog-walker. But that will be the limit of his involvement. Toby’s a civilian. And the cops don’t like civilians screwing up their scenes. Toby’s not the only canine in my series. Miata, the Doberman pincher who makes a cameo appearance in Incendiary Designs, is a real dog whose human, Deen Kogan, bid in a literacy benefit auction to have Miata named as a character in Incendiary Designs.
Besides suggesting parallels to the human actors, the animals in my books help define character. Dr. Caleb is a man who understands cats and, by extension, cat-like humans. He’s a man who lives alone but prefers company—hence his cats. Detective Thinnes is a hard boiled Violent Crimes cop, a man who cannot bring himself to tell his wife he loves her. But he’s also a man who’ll spend his last five dollars to feed a stray dog. Neither Thinnes nor Caleb would ever talk to himself, but neither would hesitate to discuss things with his familiars. Toby also provides the opportunity for insight into Thinnes’s relation with his son, Rob, and a chance for the author to point out the irony of callused cops going marshmallowy around ducks and puppies.
Not all fiction is autobiographical, but belonging to a pet gives an author plenty of free material (the mouse incident, for instance). And if the realism is in the details, details like the antics of a family pet contribute significantly to the verisimilitude of the story.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Hi, all. Having presented a bunch of smaller workshops over the years, I had the opportunity to conduct a full day on writing crime fiction at the Midwest Writers Conference a few weeks ago. The response of attendees was so good they inspired me. (Warning.. do not get inspired often -- it leads to work.) At any rate, I've decided to offer an intense one-day writing workshop here in Chicago... it will be at the Winnetka Community House on either September 24 or October 29.
Here's the gist of it:
Anatomy of a Crime Novel: The Craft of Crime Fiction"
Conducted by Libby Fischer Hellmann
They say that writing a publishable novel is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. In this hands-on intensive session, you'll sweat it out by exploring the elements of craft that make a crime fiction novel impossible to put down.
Whether you write cozies or hard-boiled, PI or amateur sleuth, you'll learn how the effective use of plot, narrative, voice, setting, character, dialogue, and suspense can take your work to the next level.
The workshop will focus on the practical as opposed to the theoretical, so be prepared for plenty of exercises and discussion.
Included in the price is a critique of 20 pages from your manuscript, provided it's submitted 30 days after the workshop. Libby will mark up the mss. using "track changes" and will talk on the phone with you about her comments.
Price: $375. Includes lunch, amenities, hand-outs, and edit of 20 pages. Class size limited to 12.
Questions? Contact me. Or you can sign up here.
Saturday, September 24
Saturday, October 29
Winnetka Community House
Thanks. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 08, 2011
At a recent dinner party my friends and I started discussing our previous jobs, from the earliest to present. Once we began going around the table asking the best and worst jobs we've had it became really funny. I've continued the discussion by asking those I meet to tell me their experiences. At least two had worked in some sort of meat processing facility and both quit after three days. Apparently you don't want to see how sausage is made, nor do you want to work on a poultry farm.
Others discussed the grind of physical labor. Lifting cords of wood and shoving steel wore out two friends, even though they were young when they attempted it. Watching children in a summer day camp climbed the list for one as the most stressful job she's ever had. She said it takes a special person to handle thirty children at once. She's says now when her three seem to be running in all different directions she calms herself by remembering the thirty. Most seemed to like being a waiter or waitressing (I did as well) and one loved working summers at a summer camp.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
by Libby Hellmann
Hi, all. Those of you who are on KindleBoards might be interested in a discussion about SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE. It's part of their "Read With The Author" Book Klub, which they're in the process of reviving. I am one of six authors they asked to lead a discussion, and I had the "good fortune" to be the guinea --er -- first.
So, I'd love it if you popped over and put in your two cents. There are a bunch of threads, but you really don't have to have read the book to participate -- some of them are pretty general.
Thanks. See you over here.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
The Huffington Post recently posted a list of six classics that the author thought overrated. The link is here. But if you don't want to click it they are:
1. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
2. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
3. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
4. Ulysses, James Joyce
5. The Stranger, Albert Camus
I never read Ulysses-dodged a bullet on that one, and I've only seen Waiting for Godot performed as a play at the Steppenwolf Theater. Well acted, but weird.
Barely recall The Stranger and really recall Moby Dick and Catcher in the Rye. I read Catcher in the Rye when I was a teenager myself and I recall thinking it was okay, but didn't knock me out.
So this list got me to thinking. What were the novels that are the best? Worth every minute? Got you thinking, or sent your imagination flying?
1. Edgar Allan Poe. Creepy, strange and really twisted.
2. Heinlein, The Red Planet. Loved the whole concept and read it at the appropriate age, so that helped.
3. Stephen King, The Stand. Great exploration of good and evil fighting it out.
4. Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti. Interesting hidden homosexual tones that I kept pressing my college professor to acknowledge. He said, in a bland kind of rolled eye way "yes, Ms. Freveletti, that's been commented on by many over the century," but never really delved into it and seemed to want to move past this revelation. I was fascinated that she had managed to write this poem and it taught me to look for hidden meanings in literature.
5. The Second Coming, WB Yeats. Again, creepy poem that really caught me. (In reading this list I just realized that everything I like is a bit creepy. Guess that's why I write thrillers).
What is your list?
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I consider the Sunday New York Times one of life’s greatest pleasures. So I was thrilled when I saw that Long Beach, Indiana, a place of hidden beauty, a place I consider a home, was featured in the Chicagoland section on July 17, 2011. But then I saw what the article was about—the 4th of July tragedy.
Two good guys (that’s the opinion from everyone who’s spoken about them) were on the beach. Some arguments were had. One good kid threw a punch. The other good kid died. I’m over-simplifying here, (to read the piece click here) but that’s the upshot and the agony of the situation.
A few years ago, when I was working on a murder case at 26th and Cal, many were surprised that my client was accused of throwing only two punches. But two punches that contribute to someone’s death is murder in the eyes of the law. As my co-counsel told the jury, “If you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound.”
It was in Long Beach, Indiana I wrote most of my book about that trial—Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him. It’s Long Beach that has held me in its dunes and beaches while I wrote most of my twelve books.
The excruciating side of ‘in-for-a-penny’ rule is, as seen in Long Beach, there’s loss all the way around. Clearly, there’s the loss to one family already and now another has their son charged with involuntary manslaughter rolling the dice in the legal system. (My deepest and most sincere sympathies to both families).
So what are we to do with this? Is there anything we can take from such situations? Perhaps it is at least the reminder of the constant fragility of life even in the most idyllic of places. We have to remind ourselves to take the utmost care in day-to-day life—wherever we are—and we have to tell that to our kids, our students, our nieces and nephews. The shame is that this reminder comes in the shadow of such heartbreak for so many.
Monday, July 18, 2011
It's 95 degrees outside and even hotter in my air conditioned house. Why? Because I'm in the middle of one of my manuscripts. Yes, I'm at that lovely space about two thirds of the way that we writers like to call "Death Valley." It's when the plot is formed, the action moving along, and the characters heading toward discovery, BUT, they're not close enough for the last twenty five pages.
I love the last twenty five pages because they're all about momentum. These are the pages that write themselves. For me endings are just a blast to write.
But death valley is the most difficult part. That's because you need to be mindful of the red herrings that you've placed along the way, the plot points that you want to strike and the story arc that you need to hit. I always thought if I was one of those writers that use an outline I would breeze through this section, but I'm told by those writers that do outline that this is not true. They groan when I mention Death Valley, so I assume the pain is equal for them as well.
If you're a new writer beware this section. This is the time that most new authors throw in the towel. Doubts arise, it's difficult and you get a good sense of just how hard it is to write a cohesive story for as many pages as are required. That's why at writing conferences I get a slew of hands when I ask how many are in the middle and stuck.
The best advice I can give for this section is to do just a bit of research. Not a lot, mind you, or you'll just give yourself another reason to procrastinate, but a little. I've found that research will give me some more ideas that will often help me break through to the next level.
In the meantime, I'm just sitting here, sweating it out. I'd go outside for a quick break, but it's as hot out there as in here. I'll just keep on working, ignore the pain and struggle on through.
Back at you when I get to the other side!
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Every writer keeps files with ideas, plot summaries, lines of dialog. Mine are in a folder titled "Great Beginnings." Sometimes, when I access it to add something I don't want to work on but don't want to forget, I reread one of the files. I did that today and discovered something I scribbled in 2009, something I'd forgotten I wrote:
One of those rainy October mornings, with the streets imperfectly reflecting sky and traffic lights, collecting red and yellow leaves along the gutters. I was passing Saks in Highland Park. They had the bronze security gate halfway up, and a young woman was kneeling to clean the smudges off the glass doors. As she paused in her task, she gazed out at the rainy landscape. Her expression seemed to reflect the wet gray sky.
I observe my surroundings,
especially the people around me.
I observe myself observing.
It's not unlike the glimpse of absurdity
you get in a fun house,
where a mirror reflects
a smaller reflection of itself
reflecting a smaller reflection of itself
Friday, June 24, 2011
My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they've outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well I do not know anyone fitting this description at all. Everyone I know flails around kvetching and
growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.
...your first writing is as delicate as a seedling. Don't show it to some yahoo who wouldn't know an orchid from kudzu.Making a Literary Life, Carolyn See
If you use a colloquialism or a slang word or phrase, simply use it; do not draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks. To do so is to put on airs, as though you were inviting the reader to join you in select society of those who know better.The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
Sometimes you just have to be stubborn. No matter how difficult the writing task, how slowly the words come, how altogether discouraging the act of writing seems to be, your stubborn streak keeps you going.The Daily Writer, Fred White
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
Just for fun, agree with criticism directed toward you (then watch it go away)Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...and it's all small stuff, Richard Carlson, PH.D
And my own: enjoy every minute of it.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I was diagnosed with ulcers in February, and I know the exact day they started to form. It was the day I realized the entire way I’d been marketing my books over the past 10 years had, in the digital e-book age, become obsolete. I remember realizing that I’d have to learn a totally new way of promoting: all online, all “soft” marketing, all very time-consuming.
Not the thing a hard-charging, results-oriented former marketing person wants to hear.
Four months later, the ulcers are – thankfully -- gone, and I’m feeling better about marketing, too. I went back to school (metaphorically) to learn the ABCs of e-book promotion. I teamed up with a couple of writers’ groups to share the load; started keeping tabs and submitting my books to new websites and blogs like Cheap Daily Reads and Kindle Nation Daily, as well as other emerging gatekeeper sites; polished my Facebook fan page; started using Twitter more; joined a couple of blogs; plus a hundred other things that, by trial and error, I’m either doing or not.
And while surviving in the digital age requires a lot more effort and has significantly slashed my writing productivity (at least for now), there are other perks. There is no question that the Digital Age has presented authors with opportunities that used to be only a dream.
Like producing an audiobook.
I am in the midst of producing the audio of SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, my seventh novel, and I’m having more fun than I’ve had in years. Mostly because I used to be a video producer. I worked in both corporate and broadcasting jobs – in fact, my first “real” job was at KYW news radio in Philadelphia. For me audio is “theater of the mind.” You have the voices, the effects, and the words, but you get to visualize the characters – the way they look, their expressions, their body language. It’s the bridge between reading and film, and it’s a medium I’ve always cherished. There’s just nothing like closing your eyes (as long as you’re not driving) and letting your imagination wander.
So far two of my novels and four short stories have been produced on audio. However, in each case, I’ve had to wait years for them to become available.
Now, with everything digital and online, it’s possible to produce an audiobook quickly, at a reasonable cost, and still have a professional product. Which is what I’m doing. No, I’m not voicing it myself -- I’m not that crazy. But I have a friend – a published writer herself – who’s also an actress and whose voice is a dream. When she started reading a sample chapter, she read it exactly the way I wrote it, which is a testament to her talent. She changes her modulation, her volume, and her tone, depending on the character. And she does perfect accents.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I knew enough to realize that recording the book is in some ways the easiest part. The trick is to hook up with a distributor who can get it on the most popular audio download sites. While that market has coalesced -- Audible, iTunes, and Amazon are the major distributors today – there are smaller venues that I wouldn’t know. But a distributor does. So before we started recording I Googled audio distributors.
Imagine my surprise when a familiar name popped up: the wife of a friend who used to work at Mystery Bookstore of Los Angeles (RIP).
I immediately emailed my friend.
“Is this YOUR wife?” I asked.
“It is,” he said.
“How did I not know she was into audio books?” I said.
“You never asked,” he said. “She’s been doing this for years.”
We immediately connected and I emailed her a sample MP3. At the time I thought I’d be able to record on my Mac with a Snowball mic. Unfortunately, she emailed back that the quality wasn’t professional enough. Too much “noise.”
So I called an old friend who owns a video studio near my house, worked out a reasonable rate, and we started recording. We’re over half way through. The best part is that I can bring home the tape, import it into Audacity and edit each chapter. Did I ever tell you how much I love editing? Whether I’m editing words, audio, or video, I love the process of assembling raw footage, sound, or words, and creating a compelling story. What’s more, compared to film, audio is easy. Audacity makes it simple. Essentially, it’s a word processing program for sound. It even has the same commands as Word. (It’s also free, btw). I’m able to make cuts and splices, eliminate breaths and sibilants, extend pauses, and take out unexplained clicks and clacks. It’s a very satisfying process.
We have about three weeks left to go. Then we will do a final mix with a sound engineer who’s done audio books before. After that, I’ll email the final product to my distributor who will do her thing. With luck it will available by fall.
I waited two years for the audio to EASY INNOCENCE. It will be three years for A PICTURE OF GUILT. But SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE came out last winter. Barely eight months later, it will be available as an audio book.
There are times I love technology.
Monday, June 13, 2011
When I first started writing I used to sit in conferences rolling my eyes when a writer talked about character taking over the plot line and acting in unpredictable ways. I'd think, "are these people crazy? Their character isn't real!"
Until it happened to me.
It first happened in a manuscript that I still have on shelf--my first completed novel--called Black Money. One of the characters was supposed to be a crazy, fun and irresponsible musician. In every scene where I expected to write a nutty response to a situation, this character was the voice of reason. I kept trying to make him insouciant, but I continued writing sane. Finally I bowed to whatever my subconscious wanted and wrote the character as if he wore a suit to work, did the right thing and just happened to be employed in a band. The juxtaposition worked. He ended up being one of the best characters in an otherwise uneven piece.(Black Money is staying on the shelf because the occasional flashes of brilliance are not enough to save the first draft. It needs a rewrite, which I simply don't have the time to do right now).
The phenomenon of a character taking off in another direction just happened again in my latest manuscript. There I was, minding my own business, and everything started to go haywire. This time I have no excuse. I saw it happening and just leaned into the change. Figured, "oh what the heck, just run with it." Need I say that the character is better than the synopsis I submitted to my publisher those many months ago? Need I say that my fingers are crossed that the publisher thinks so as well?
I've learned to embrace such moments because they usually herald a nice switch up from standard. By standard I mean the "serial killer is crazy," or the "killer is smarter than the rest of the world" familiar character that we've all come to know and love. While at BookExpoAmerica I did a short video interview. They didn't clear the questions first, so when the interviewer asked me "how do you keep a thriller fresh" I said, "It's genre fiction and some things are expected" which was shorthand for "you'd better have some moments that, while standard, define the genre." Don't write a long piece about the lovely scenery or readers will think they've wandered into the wrong novel. Do write some tension, action and suspense.
But having said all the above, I find that these moments "off topic" usually end up making the manuscript fresher than it would have been otherwise. I don't write from an outline and now you know why, because I can't seem to even stay true to my own short synopsis. I think this form of creation may lend itself to more tangents. Some, like the one I just took, are all for the better. Yes, one can write oneself into a corner, but I don't often find that to be a problem. Fiction writers have the world at their disposal. We just bend it to fit the story and keep on going!
Thursday, June 09, 2011
By now probably half the world has heard about the recent attacks carried out by a group of teenagers against three different people, one a 68 year old. Crime in a big city is not so unusual as to create headlines, but mobs of teenagers heading out of their neighborhood to hit another and doing it in the early evening is news.
Earlier in the year I posted about my concerns involving Chicago's red line subway stop at Chicago/State. You can see the post here. Not surprisingly, the mobs used the red line and exited at this station to get to their victims. Also not surprisingly, the McDonalds there was the scene of an earlier disturbance, where it is alleged over 70 teens converged and the restaurant had to be shut down for several hours.
Two weeks ago I emerged at this corner on my way to the Magnificent Mile and found barrage of police. At least a dozen officers stood in front of the McDonalds. I knew that something must have happened, but this was several months after the McDonalds incident, so now we're talking new. While the show of force was good, it was another thing Chicago is, to my mind, becoming famous for: big talk and little action. And couple of weeks later the attacks happen only two blocks over on Chicago Avenue.
I'm not suggesting that the police can contain all crime, but I am suggesting that Chicago's residents are a pretty jaded group. We have several ex- governor felons, one in jail, one being tried and whole members of the infrastructure being indicted, but still the voters stay home. Our budget is in a shambles, our schools deteriorating and still the voters stay home. Now the one area that may be actually generating the tax base that Chicago needs to continue as a going concern is being attacked by roving gangs of teenagers and journalists wring their hands over whether they should identify the attackers' race (black, and they didn't) and another writes a piece on how the south side is different from the downtown area and crime there isn't reported or acted on enough, as if two wrongs somehow should make a right. And the mother of one of the attackers is quoted in the paper echoing this sentiment by complaining that the bail was too high and if her child had attacked someone on the South Side he would have gotten a lighter bond.
Notice how neither addresses the core problem: crime.
Enough. There is lot of handwringing, but basically a big shrug in the end. Chicagoans need to be outraged. They need to demand better and they need to get their butts to the voting booth and make a change in the best way that they can. And this new Mayor needs to crack down, and by that I mean inside his own City Hall. We've had enough crime start there as the round of indictments show and it spreads outward. As the saying goes: the fish rots at the head.
Let's hope this new fish can get it done. In the meantime, I'm headed to the dojo and then to the track to run. Looks like I'd better keep both skills honed.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
I attended the Printers' Row Lit Fest here in Chicago this weekend. Here's a picture of the panel I was asked to moderate. From the left: the Outfit's own Kevin Guilefoile, Andrew Gross, me and Keir Graff.
We discussed thrillers, how we wrote them, what we thought of our protagonists and writing and reading. Here are the highlights:
- Andrew Gross met Charles Manson when he was a boy (!)
Andrew's next book, Eyes Wide Open, launches on July 12th. In the book he describes a similar meeting. He told us this mirrors (a bit) of the actual event. Apparently Andrew lived in California at the time that Manson and his crew was wandering around the hills. There are several reasons that you should read Andrew's book, it's a terrifying psychological thriller, but this scene is just one more reason.
- Keir Graff received a blurb from James Grady
The Price of Liberty was not only compared to one of my favorite books: Three Days of the Condor, he actually received a blurb from the author. Keir confirmed that it was a great day when he received that news. (And see the comments below re: Three Days--any input on why all versions now retitled Three Days?)
- Kevin Guilfoile's novel is compared to Katherine Neville's The Eight
I was a huge fan of The Eight and unfortunately mistakenly sent my first edition to a charity donation. (It got caught up in a box of books). Kevin's The Thousand is every bit as good and very cool. Another must read.
- Not surprisingly, Andrew Gross outlines
I say not surprisingly, because he wrote with James Patterson for six books and Patterson is known to outline his novels.
- Kevin Guilfoile outlines as well
- Keir Graff has a simple, three section outline.
This last information about outlining was a bit surprising as I can't remember ever hearing a panel of writers that all outlined. Most of the time writers are evenly split between outliners and seat of the pants writers.
I never outline. I just come up with a premise and go.
The panel was a lot of fun and these panelists were a breeze for me, the moderator. They all are at ease in front of an audience and entertaining as well. Thanks to all who came out to see us!I was unable to attend a lot of the fest this year due to a family graduation party, but I want to thank those readers of this blog who stopped by at the Mystery Writers of America tent when I was there. It's so nice to meet in person.
My next event is in NYC for Thrillerfest and would love to see you there.
Thanks all for your support!
Monday, May 30, 2011
With the advent of television shows like CSI and others, those writing detective novels and crime scene investigators are under increased pressure to write details about crime detection. Which is not to say that CSI depicts in any way the actual steps that go into an investigation. I've been to many seminars put forth by forensic scientists and all roll their eyes at some of the more incredible plot lines in the television show. Likewise, many thrillers stretch the truth and the abilities of the tools out there for crime detection. In fact, there are some tools that simply don't exist, but have become embedded into the collective unconsciousness to such an extent that audiences believe they do.
I ran into this latter problem when writing my first, Running from the Devil. In that novel, my protagonist, Emma Caldridge, is on an airplane that's downed in the Colombian jungle. The paramilitary group that downed the plane arrange to take away the airplane's flight recorder and then bomb the remains, making it difficult for investigators to find the wreckage. Early manuscript readers, though, didn't believe that a plane's wreckage would be difficult to find. All seemed to think that a simple google earth search would reveal its exact location quickly.
Not so. In fact, there are hundreds of airplanes that crash and are never recovered or found. Most are in the Pacific Northwest in America, where the wooded areas and mountainous regions do not lend themselves to easy access, and others in countries with areas like the jungle, where dense foliage block any chance of finding it. In order to deal with the readers' lack of credulity about a fact that was actually true, I wrote in an official of the US organization in charge of finding downed planes and had him recite the actual statistics to an (equally incredulous) main character. Problem solved.
Luckily for most authors, there are now classes and workshops arranged by trusted sources that will teach you all you need to know about crime scene detection and give it to you straight. Not only are these classes informative, but they're a lot of fun. The trick to finding them is to scan the events pages of associations like the International Thriller Writers (ITW) or the museums in your area. I recently received a link from the Natural History Museum in London that is putting on a terrific forensic investigation evening on June 24th. In this evening, one can view a crime scene and learn how to determine date and time of death by insect collection (complete with maggots! Love these creatures and used them in Running from the Devil) as well as tips on how to identify sex and height of skeletal remains. I wish I lived in London. If I did, I'd attend this one for sure.
But wherever you live, if you're writing crime you'll eventually have to learn the basics of crime scene detection. Gruesome as it sounds, it's actually quite interesting.
Whatever you do, try your best to get it right or you will receive emails setting you straight. Just about every writer has had a mistake or two surface in their manuscripts and there are whole websites devoted to the continuity mistakes in movies. I guess that's reassuring. Even Hollywood gets it wrong sometimes.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
I've been reading a couple of mysteries and thrillers--unusual for me because I'm writing continuously now and don't like to read others while I write-in order to nominate on various awards and moderate a panel at Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. One of the novels is written in first person, the others in third. I'm not surprised that the first person novel is a mystery, while the third person fiction is a thriller.
I love first person. Especially one as well written as the novel I'm reading: The Damage Done, by Hilary Davidson. It feels like you are right there with the protagonist as she moves through the mystery. The immediacy is wonderful, and as the clues unfold the reader experiences the "aha" moment along with the character. This novel is filled with a cast of shadowy characters that surround the sister of the main protagonist. The sister has a long history of drug addiction and collects trouble in the way that you would expect when someone deals with the fringes of society so long. When the addicted sister is found dead, her older sibling returns to New York to solve the mystery.
First person can present problems for the writer. How to describe the character's physical appearance without having her look into a mirror? Ms. Davidson does a wonderful job weaving in the protagonist's love of classic movies and physical comparison to Ava Gardner. Well done. The story's cast of characters, from a police detective to a Pakistani "import/export" specialist are dark and filled with contradiction. I wouldn't call Ms. Davidson's book noir exactly, but it has the brush of it in a new, modern way that's great to read.
Third person, on the other hand, allows a myriad of options both for the writer and the reader. In this form, the reader gets the benefit of crawling into the mind of several characters and there's nothing more chilling then being the fly on the wall when the killer starts to justify the act. The other novel I'm reading is The Outfit's own Kevin Guilfoile's The Thousand. If you like the Stieg Larsson novels, you'll love this one because it has a believable premise with a heroine that is unusual and tough. This is a great read that is a thriller but with the puzzle plot that's pure mystery. Wonderfully written, this book takes a great premise: a woman with an unusual ability that sets her apart and ties it to an ancient cult. Very very cool stuff and probably best written in third person because it goes back in history.
It's tough to keep a thriller moving when in first person. I know, because I've tried it. One of my manuscripts--written after my debut but never shown to either my agent or editor--initially started out in first. After two thirds of the way done I realized that I wanted to get into the mind of the killer and show how he was tracking the protagonist, but I couldn't because it would involve showing things that a first person character couldn't possibly know. I ended up rewriting the manuscript in third person in order to do justice to the idea that I had. What I lost in intimacy I gained in plot in that case, but that's a call that only a writer can make. Sometimes a story requires first person. Especially in a story of self discovery, as is Ms. Davidson's, where I think third person would not have been as effective.
I've seen writers that bounce between the two forms in the same novel. Harlan Coben has done this to great effect, as has Barry Eisler. It's tough to do without jarring the reader and takes quite a bit of skill. Both these writers have that skill and I think the switch up worked just fine. Notably, neither writer does this in every book. Once again a writer making a decision about form for each individual story.
I'll be reading two more novels in the next three weeks in order to moderate the panel at Printers' Row. I'll post about those soon!